class dealignmentthe thesis, especially in connection with VOTING BEHAVIOUR in Britain, that a previous pattern of alignment between POLITICAL ATTITUDES and CLASS is breaking down and is being replaced by more fluid affiliations and more volatile patterns of voting (e.g. see Crewe et al., 1977; see also WORKING-CLASS CONSERVATISM, AFFLUENT WORKER, CLASS IMAGERY). The thesis finds some justification in the fact that working-class support for the Labour Party has declined in recent years, while middle-class support for the Labour Party and for parties other than the Conservative Party has increased. Alford (1967) has suggested that the extent of class voting within an electorate can be measured using an index of class voting computed as: the percentage of manual workers voting for ‘Left’ parties, minus the percentage of nonmanual workers voting for ‘Left’ parties. Crewe's thesis of class dealignment’ would appear to rest on a similar conception of ‘class voting’ and ‘non-class voting’. It can be argued, however, that this provides only one baseline for measures of class voting, and not necessarily the most cogent or significant one. Several possibilities can be noted:
- taking another baseline (e.g. Marxian conceptions of CLASS or sectoral interests, see SECTORAL CLEAVAGES), increasing middle-class support for parties other than the Conservative Party might be seen as reflecting a new recognition of ‘class interests’ among particular sections of nonmanual workers (see also NEW MIDDLE CLASS, MIDDLE-CLASS RADICALISM);
- there is the problem of how to take into account what Wright (1985,1989) has referred to as MEDIATED CLASS LOCATIONS, especially the influence of a spouse's or partner's employment on the assessment of a voter's class location. In many studies of voting behaviour, including those of Butler and Stokes, and Crewe, this influence has not been taken into account. Studies have mainly used the occupation of the, usually male, ‘HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD’ as their main indicator of‘class’. For this second reason no less than the first, it is obvious that estimates of‘class’ or ‘class-deviant’ voting will vary widely with different definitions of‘class’.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000